I realize that I really like most of the books I read. The problem with this is that after giving glowing reviews to good, and even great work, I have a hard time convincing people when I've read something truly magnificent. I have just read something truly magnificent. Amazingly magnificent. Unbelievably magnificent. Enchantingly magnificent.
I have just read Misfortune by Wesley Stace. Not only is this novel magnificent, it was also Stace's debut novel. He now has a life-long devoted fan. Misfortune takes place in England in the 1800's. A baby, taken from a dying mother during a botched abortion, is left on a trash heap to die. She is picked up by a very rich lord and adopted as the next heir and named Rose. Only, she is a he. Her father, terribly missing his sister, who died at age 5, ignores the baby's genitalia. Her mother, the librarian her father married in order to make her look legitimate (and not adopted) is a fan of an early feminisia poet, named Mary Day, and looks upon this as an experiment to show that gender is a social construct. In the wings, a horrible family, who needs the family fortune which will one day belong to Rose. Only her true identity is discovered, by both herself and her family and things become terribly complicated.
When I picked up this book I thought it would be an adventure book, the story of someone figuring out who they are. However, I was unprepared for the dignity, respect and insight Stace gives the character of Rose. Stace does not acknowledge reading Foucault's The History of Sexuality, but Rose's internal struggle often mirrored that story (The History of Sexuality revolves around the diary of a hermaphrodite in 19th century (maybe 18th) France who eventually kills him/herself because he/she feels alienated, not only from society, but from him/herself). Rose's self-discovery, self-hatred and eventually, self-acceptance are lovingly told. Rose is not someone who should be shunned, but someone who should be admired for the way in which she learns to love and accept who she truly is.
The story itself is remarkable. Once it is discovered that Rose is a he, it is also discovered that she is a bastard, and therefore, not the legitimate heir of the family fortune. At this point, I became a tad bit disappointed because I felt a Tom Jones (the book, not the singer) ending coming. However, Stace threw in such a delightful twist, that I did not mind at all. Although this book is 500 pages, it flew by and I can't wait to pick up Stace's latest book.
Misfortune should be a must read for anyone who has felt like they didn't fit in their own skin. I figure that all of us have felt like that at one time or another. I definitely think this book should be required reading for gender study courses. Stace is an incredibly talented man and I look forward to reading him for years to come.